Editorial: Rosenstone’s work laudable for students

Published 8:40 pm Thursday, July 20, 2017

“If leadership were about giving people good news, the job would be easy.”

That’s a quote from outgoing Minnesota State Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s notes on a book he re-read throughout his tenure, “Leadership on the Line.”

There was much on the line when he took office in 2011 — and financial, enrollment and other challenges remain — but Rosenstone is retiring later this month “proud of what we accomplished.”

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The signature effort of his six years with the sprawling higher-education system — the Charting the Future strategy to boost collaboration, create efficiencies and cut costs — won support on these pages as we look for efforts by public bodies to work smarter to deal with competition for resources and changing demographics.

Early on, he explained, his job — at one of the nation’s largest such systems with nearly 400,000 students, 30 colleges, seven universities and 54 campuses — wasn’t one for a mid-career academic professional, for somebody on the way up who may have reason to avoid necessary conflict.

“It would be a challenge to get a job after this,” he told us as he brings to a close a 44-year career as an educator.

“People do not resist change, per se. They resist loss,” authors Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky write, and Rosenstone notes. “You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.”

Rosenstone’s tenure at Minnesota State — rebranded last year from MnSCU, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities — reached its nadir in 2014, with student and faculty groups questioning his leadership and some unions withdrawing from the process. Among issues in the rift were concerns about the supposed top-down nature of the implementation, and fears the process would diminish the liberal arts in favor of more focus on career preparation, the Pioneer Press reported. The unions agreed to rejoin the discussion the next year. The trustees stood with Rosenstone, and he remained on the high road; he didn’t speak out against disrespectful personal attacks then and won’t discuss them now.

In our conversation earlier this month, one of many during his work there, Rosenstone stressed broad consultation and involvement of students, faculty and staff during the process. And he notes that — along with technical skills — employers still want the so-called “soft” ones that help workers think creatively, communicate well and function successfully in a team environment.

Rosenstone also reflected on his vantage point at the junction of education, the workforce and equity. “Solutions are at the intersection of what we do together,” he told us, noting that in Minnesota, “we face a perfect storm.” Baby boomers are retiring in record numbers, population and labor-force growth are slowing and we’re becoming more diverse. It’s an environment in which we can’t leave anyone behind.

“Every single one” of its students must succeed, says a Minnesota State report on Rosenstone’s tenure. “An education that prepares people for high-demand, well-paying jobs will do more to reduce disparities and meet Minnesota’s talent needs than anything else our state can do.” The report notes that the system serves more students of color and American Indians and more first-generation and low-income college students than all of Minnesota’s other education options combined.

Solutions, he told us, happen in collaboration. Among contributions likely to last, Rosenstone has been a leader in aligning education with business needs, with efforts that included 58 formative listening sessions around the state with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Minnesota State also was among partners helping launch Real-Time Talent, a nonprofit public-private partnership to better align education with workforce needs.

Rosenstone, who characterizes his work at Minnesota State as “redesign, rather than reform,” joined the system after serving as a University of Minnesota vice president and teaching at Yale University and the University of Michigan. In the wings is Interim Chancellor Devinder Malhotra, who “will lead with grace, wisdom and dedication,” Rosenstone said. System trustees earlier this year didn’t find a successor among three finalists and re-opened their search.

A trustees’ report thanks Rosenstone, noting his “tenacity in the face of headwinds” and that the system “is in a better position today because the chancellor delivered a vision, ideas and the case for change to strengthen the organization.”

A stronger Minnesota State is part of a state better able to meet future workforce needs in the face of dramatic population shifts. We thank Rosenstone for his service. Minnesota should, too.

— St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 16

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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